The Self That Remains

I want to validate what I’d observed in my husband: how elements of his self were both retained and transcended through the last years of his life. I’d witnessed both the self that remained despite his losses, as well as an unselfing. Our friends saw it, too.

Two photos: One, a studio portrait, was shot when Dick was in his thirties. I took the other when he was eighty-one and in the final stages of dementia. As he aged, his face lost its leanness and softened. But the air of curiosity, kindness, amusement, and intelligence remained.

            There’s clearly some congruence between the two photographs of my husband––just as many
aspects of the man who had dementia was consistent with the man he’d always been. Dick insisted on living in accord with his own wishes and his own character. Within the first week of moving him to an assisted living facility, an aide informed me that Dick, insulted, had told her, “I’m not a child!” He also exclaimed to me, “I’m a human being!” To whom does I refer, if not the self?

            Dick Cain was a person first, a human being who happened to have dementia. He continued to be “shaped around ‘I’ like a flame on a wick, emanating itself in grief and guilt and joy,” as the author Marilynne Robinson so beautifully puts it in her novel Gilead.

Anne-Marie Erickson

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